Banished Podcast: Sunshine State's Descent Into DarknessHistorians in the News
tags: racism, Florida, critical race theory, Ron DeSantis, Christopher Rufo, Banned Books
CHRISTOPHER RUFO: One thing that I almost admire about the political left is that they want to achieve dominance and nothing less than dominance. And so I think it's fair to say that you have left wing ideological dominance in every public university in Florida, and in fact, virtually every public university in the United States. They're saturated with diversity, equity, and inclusion; they're saturated with critical theory or neo-Marxist theory; they're saturated with queer theory. What it all is when you bring it together, it is left-wing political activism.
AMNA KHALID: Conservative activist Christopher Rufo, the brains behind the right-wing movement to fight so-called woke ideology in public education across the country. Florida is ground zero in this battle.
ROBERT CASSANELLO : It looks like DeSantis is working around the clock to stamp out any and all free thought here in Florida.
AK: That's Robert Cassanello, University of Central Florida history professor.
This is banished and I am Amna Khalid. In this episode my colleague Jeff Snyder and I are taking a look at some of the laws and initiatives targeting higher education in Florida. To be honest, there are so many, it's hard to keep track of them all.
Couched in terms of viewpoint diversity and intellectual freedom, there is HB 233, which allows students to record class sessions without the faculty members consent; there is HB 7, most commonly known as the Stop WOKE Act, which restricts what professors can teach about race, sex, and US history; a proposal to revamp the post-tenure review process, which some faculty fear would weaken tenure protections; there's the controversial appointment of Ben Sasse as president of the University of Florida through a hiring process that lacked transparency and faculty input; there’s the installation of new conservative trustees at New College with the aim of transforming the state liberal arts college into a “Hillsdale of the South;” and finally there's DeSantis’ recent requests for public colleges and universities to detail all the expenditures pertaining to critical race theory and diversity equity and inclusion. Phew!
Of all these developments, the Stop WOKE Act has gained the most notoriety. It makes Florida one of seven states that have passed so-called “divisive concepts” laws aimed at public colleges and universities.
CHRISTOPHER RUFO: We saw policies from Donald Trump when he was president. We saw policies from Governor Ron DeSantis in Florida. We saw policies in state legislatures.
AK: Christopher Rufo, the mastermind behind the anti CRT legislative campaign.
CHRISTOPHER RUFO: These policies were successful. What they did is say, hey, we're gonna actually put guardrails on what kind of values and ideologies you can transmit, and we're now going to exclude certain ideas like one race is inherently superior to another race, or you should feel guilty on behalf of your ancestry or your racial identity.
AK: Rufo wasn't exaggerating. These policies really have been successful. But the question is: why?
JAMES GROSSSMAN: Rufo’s brilliance was to create a boogeyman.
AK: James Grossman, the executive director of the American Historical Association. The boogeyman he's referring to is critical race theory.
JG: Each of those words is terrifying to a lot of white Americans all by themselves. Then you put them together and it's going to drive people up a wall. And those three words scare a lot of people. Now, by the way, they're moving from those three words to something that scares people even more, which is sexuality, and sexual identity. That's even more terrifying.
JEFF SNYDER: The campaign to root out alleged left wing indoctrination in schools and on campuses is not only intended to scare the American public, but to frighten and intimidate educators as well.
AK: My colleague Jeff Snyder.
JS: Based on media reports and our own conversations with over a half dozen professors in Florida, the Stop WOKE Act is having serious chilling effects on faculty members, especially those without tenure. From tweaking syllabus content and changing course titles to dropping courses altogether, professors are avoiding topics related to race, racism, and inequality. This past fall, University of Central Florida Sociology professor Jonathan Cox canceled two classes that included readings challenging the assertion that the US is a colorblind society.
“It didn't seem like it was worth the risk,” said Cox who is a tenure track assistant professor. “Somebody who's not even in the class could come after me. Somebody sees the course catalog, complains to a legislator. Next thing I know, I'm out of a job.” Cox's department chair said it's an absolute tragedy that classes like this get canceled. For the fall 2022 semester. The University of Central Florida Sociology department offered 39 courses. None of them focus primarily on race.
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